Mauna Kea Observatories

The summit of the 4,200 meter high volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the largest island of the archipelago, is home to one of the most important astronomical observatories of the present. Although the telescopes on Mauna Kea operated by various universities and institutions from 11 nations, they are collectively referred to as the Mauna Kea Observatory.

The location is ideal, because at this altitude the air is already very thin and extremely dry ( a prerequisite for Infrared Astronomy ), the peak is usually above the clouds for the operation of an observatory ( the number of clear nights is therefore very high) and the air is substantially free of turbulence which would impair the quality of astronomical photography.

Between 1968 and 1999 a total of nine reflecting telescopes including the Gemini North and the Subaru telescope with a primary mirror diameter of eight meters, and the two telescopes at the WM Keck Observatory, which one ( of many were taken for the optical and infrared spectral range in operation, smaller hexagonal segments composite ) primary mirror 10 meters in diameter and up to July 2007 were the largest optical telescopes in the world. They were replaced by the Gran Telescopio Canarias, the mirror diameter is 10.4 m. The two telescopes may be operated together as an optical interferometer.

In addition to optical telescopes, there are also three instruments for the submillimeter range ( microwaves). The Submillimeter Array consisting of eight antennas with a diameter of six meters, was completed in 2002. Finally, the Mauna Kea Observatory is also home to another radio telescope of 25 meters in diameter, that comes along with other radio telescopes around the world as a radio astronomical interferometers are used (see VLBI ).


Currently ( 2008) through the planning and preparation of a project for one of the largest optical telescopes in the world. The Thirty Meter Telescope is (10 m Keck ) for an estimated price of 750 million dollars one of the most sensitive and highest-resolution terrestrial observatories with a mirror diameter of 30 m, comparable to the planned European Extremely Large Telescope. Mauna Kea is one of the sites investigated.

In addition, there arises another high-tech observatory: For 60 million dollars four 1.8 - meter telescopes are created in the Project Pan - STARRS; they should detect all dangerous asteroids. The project is funded by the Air Force from the defense budget. The systematic observation of corresponding regions of the sky by the way, a unique total coverage of all the stars.

However, the new projects are also controversial because of Mauna Kea the Hawaiians regarded as Holy Mountain and even the older telescopes are considered desecration. It requires very great diplomatic skill to find acceptance for the projects in the population.